sábado, 23 de junio de 2012

U.S. Public Diplomacy Requires a Paradigm Shift

The public diplomacy challenges that the United States is currently facing cannot be resolved in one new initiative or more effective use of social media but require a complete paradigm shift in the way the US government views the purpose of foreign relations and its own presence abroad. There is evidence that indicates a general lack of appreciation for the inherent value of engagement and dialogue between nations. For example, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher has said, "Engagment and dialogue is not an end in itself. Engagement and dialogue is a means to achieve U.S. interest..."[1]  When government officials are making statements like this one, any later effort to reach out to a foreign body will inevitably be perceived as somewhat insincere. It is this commitment to furthering our own agenda that may have been responsible for some of our successes in other areas, but ultimately leaves us struggling when it comes to developing relationships. If the United States were able to take a different position on public diplomacy, perhaps some of these problems could be prevented and our approach would not have to be so reactionary. A greater interest in understanding the viewpoints of those we hope to work with might help us to be more effective in developing partnerships. In order to achieve this, it’s imperative that we understand that our policies or thoughts may change and bend with this interaction. It is not enough to assume that our way is correct, and we must simply change the way others see it.

However, there are a few steps that we could take to make our current work more successful. Ideally, a larger percentage of the budget would be devoted to public diplomacy. The amount of funding that is directed towards hard power forces such as the military greatly outweighs that intended for public diplomacy, and that speaks volumes about what the United States values and understands to be strength. As noted above, any public diplomacy solutions should be thought of in a long-term way. A more sustained interest and effort in building and maintaining relationships would make any initiatives more effective.

[1] U.S. Department of State Archive. 7 October 2004. http://2001-2009.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2004/36917.htm

jueves, 21 de junio de 2012

The limits of country branding

Country or Nation-branding is not a term liked by many in the International Relations community. Many decision-makers left aside for many years those “marketing campaigns” that equalized sovereign countries with commercial trademarks. Does Japan need a brand to compete against Toyota? Or South Korea needs a logo to compete against Samsung? Isn’t Mexico a middle power recognized for its culture, its mariachis and tequila? Does it need a new brand?!

However, most countries have realized that branding it is not only about having a commercial logo or a catchy slogan. Peter van Ham, in “Social Power in International Relations,” makes a good effort to explain how country’s leaders have ended up to accept that since every country has a brand, it is better to invest in a good campaign instead of becoming silent in a competitive world.

Image and reputation are parts of the brand, but it is Simon Anholt who has developed a complex hexagon with areas that should be analyzed in order to build up a nation-brand. Future Brand, a consultant firm specialized in branding has also developed its Country Brand Index following a few indicators,[1] which are essentially the same as Anholt’s: culture, people, investment environment, exports, tourism, and governance.

It is true that country or place branding is limited and it does not provide all the possibilities of Public Diplomacy, especially the possibility to interact with others. Nevertheless, it has become a must for every country and a more accepted term nowadays. The question now relies in whether in a world where everyone is investing in its own brand, a small or middle power can really make a difference – i.e. how to successfully exploit those advantages that should help a country to differentiate and construct a comparative advantage. I am thinking in those available “natural” resources that a country is blessed with like Brazil’s soccer player and Carnival’s garotas; Argentina’s Leo Messi; or Peru’s Machu Picchu. But I am also thinking in those created products such as Korea’s K-Pop, Venezuela’s “telenovelas” and India’s Bollywood films.

Public Diplomacy is certainly more complex and rich than country branding, because it implies a real engagement with other countries and cultures, although some strategies of country-branding can boost Public Diplomacy efforts when carefully considered. The issue at stake will always be how to establish a credible image. Mexico is a good example of a country that is investing a lot in country branding[2] in order to reestablish its reputation as a friendly country after many years of continuous violence. Unfortunately, the best country brand campaign will not help to clean the blood in Ciudad Juarez - not the next President nor the Virgen of Guadalupe, are capable of those miracles.

Who can help to hide those? 

[2] MexicoToday.org 

domingo, 17 de junio de 2012

Middle Power's Soft Power

In reading this week’s articles, it became obvious that middle powers are in a unique position because while they are present and involved in different issues, they are oftentimes not on a level in which they are able to compete with major powers. Being removed from this competitive context allows them to relate to major powers in a non-threatening way. This can be both positive and negative for the country’s soft power.
On the upside, it means that the country can approach mediation for other countries in a more objective way. For example, South Korea is not on the same plane as China and Japan from an economic or militaristic viewpoint, so as far as hard power goes, it can’t compare. However, its soft power is respected. According to a survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, South Korean soft power is viewed more positively by both China and Japan than they view each other’s soft power (Lee, 4). If South Korea continues to be viewed as an approachable outside observer, it could use that quality to play a role in important Northeast Asia mediations, and potentially even turn those discussions in ways that would have benefits for South Korea.
Further, South Korea’s relatively recent development into a middle power means it can play the part of an accessible role model to other countries who hope to progress similarly. By building strong relationships and extending assistance to other developing nations, it will increase its soft power with smaller countries who may be intimidated by larger powers. This strategy is important in order to create networks of small and middle powers.
Like South Korea’s proximity to China and Japan, Mexico is a middle power that is located very close to a much stronger and stable power, the United States. However, Mexico’s soft power strategies have not been as defined or successful as South Korea’s. One of the dangers of being a middle power is marginalization. In 1990, the international cultural exhibition, Mexico Splendors of Thirty Centuries, did much to present Mexico in a positive light but did not seem to have a long-term or deep impact in the way foreign publics perceived Mexico. It is important for a middle power to avoid the trap of being seen as purely exotic and entertaining, as this makes it more difficult for it to seriously contribute to global affairs in a substantive way.
As we can see from these two middle powers, being in the middle can have its advantages. While they may not be calling the shots, they’re in a position to build strong relationships with those both more and less powerful than they are, if they can establish themselves as a sophisticated state.

jueves, 14 de junio de 2012

Measured, Success

Unlike China, the other Asian behemoth India has strong, if not always consistent, public diplomacy tools at its disposal.  This is not to say that it’s perfect, but it is able to make several claims to support its positive role both as an agent of change and as a stable actor in the world community. 

India often lays claim to being the “world’s largest democracy”.  In an era where the move towards freer forms of democracy is healthy - as evidenced by the Arab Spring of 2011 and the “color revolutions” of the mid-aughts – this is an important distinction, and one that sets it well apart from China and Russia, two of the other “BRICS” and it’s main geopolitical competitors.  The embrace of India’s heterogeneous make-up (“unity out of diversity”) also serves to act as a positive image to other nations.  A diverse ethnic and religious tableau working within a democratic framework is a positive influence on the world stage.  Finally, Bollywood, the most active entertainment sector in the world, and a strong popular musical presence allow India to spread informal PD throughout the region and other parts of the world, while Indian universities are quickly making a name for themselves.  Add in the fact that many, at least educated, Indians speak the current lingua franca, and it is ripe for imparting a positive image of itself both to its own citizens and to the world at large.

There is, of course, some tarnish on the silver.  Having such a large population of relatively unskilled and uneducated people, and a poverty rate over one quarter, is a major issue for India moving forward.  It seems especially that the highly-touted Indian democracy has not been able to keep up with the Chinese miracle going on next door, which can and will make it difficult to act as a developing world alternative to the Beijing Consensus.  A throwback to near-dictatorial times, the bureaucracy is almost as creaky as some of the colonial-era infrastructure, both of which the country rely upon heavily.  Both will need to be modernized and made more lithe and adaptable to change the perception of India into that of a vibrant, soft-powerful nation. 

These are not insurmountable obstacles, and overall India is making positive, if quiet, headway in projecting itself as a country on the way up, and one that is happy to support others of a like mind to do so.

martes, 12 de junio de 2012

China's Take on PD

How has the concept of soft power and public diplomacy been interpreted in the context of China? How is it distinct? 

As China (and it’s 1.3 billion residents) has evolved into a world superpower, its soft power and public diplomacy has remained inherently tied to their level of power.  While other countries rely on being culturally sophisticated, financially secure, or great for tourists, China seems to project only one thing: its rise into economic (and political) superpower status. 
To more developed countries, such some European nations, Japan, and the U.S., China portrays itself as a collaborator in the “harmonious society” of states, and an equal among many in a multilateral world.  Non-threatening, the new and bountiful China, it is assured, will benefit all and contribute positively to the development of the global economy and community. 
China also hopes to leverage its soft power with sometimes overlooked or oppressed countries in Africa and South America.  Here, the rise of China marks a shift away from “imperial” relationships, and demonstrates a new model to emulate: “Beijing Consensus”.  As Lee points out, the PRC provides money to countries that others in the global community refuse to invest in, mostly due to human rights concerns.  Countries want to get on the good side of the future(?) superpower, win early advantage as their designated importer of copper, soybean, or bauxite, and gain influence through their new ally.  Many companies and countries are willing to take losses to maintain these ties, in the earnest belief that they will pay off in the end. 
Although some other aspects of soft power are trickling through – growing numbers of students learning Chinese as a second language, interest in Pacific-centric international groups and organizations – they all stem from hitching onto China’s rise.  Other countries are looking to China, not to emulate their culture, their politics, or their economic model that but to maximize their economic potential.  Even the “Beijing Consensus” concept is from Western academics, not Chinese public diplomacy.  Within the discourse of a necessarily powerful, but peaceful, China it seems that other factors – poor human rights, environmental degradation, mistreatment of minorities – have been ignored.    
And this may be the point.  China wants to maintain focus on the one, big net positive, which is its economic potential.  This may be as much, if not more so, for domestic consumption than for the usual realm of public diplomacy.  By shouting about its economic rise, China tries to drown out any opposition to other facets of soft power, and of its government practices.  Whether this PD tactic can remain viable in the long run remains to be seen, and whether China will be able to rely on more than the world’s largest consumer base to ensure soft power in the future.

domingo, 10 de junio de 2012

Incredible India? Incredible Brand!

In Nicholas Cull’s Public Diplomacy: Lessons from the Past, he broadly defines public diplomacy as “an international actor’s attempt to manage the international environment through engagement with a foreign public" (12). By this definition, nation-branding might be considered public diplomacy. Especially because one of the distinctions between typical public diplomacy and the “new” public diplomacy is that international actors increasingly come in nontraditional forms, I can see how there would be a new space for hired marketing firms in this way.

However, there are a few facets of nation-branding that don’t quite fit with the view of public diplomacy:

  1.  PURPOSE: The approaches of country branding seem to be more driven by investment and tourism than political gains. According to India Wants to Be Your Friend: India and the “New Public Diplomacy”  by Elizabeth Hanson, the 2002 “Incredible India!” campaign increased the number of tourists from 2.3 million to 6.3 milllion in 2011. Of course, while having a positive image in the world will no doubt reflect well in the political arena, this appears to be more of a byproduct than the original intention. Nation-branding aims to create a broad, optimistic and memorable impression, but I see public diplomacy as more informative and based on factual evidence and actions.
  2. ENGAGEMENT: Nation-branding does not involve the foreign public in any kind of dialogue or discussion, but instead pushes information out without inviting a response. This is antithetical to the new public diplomacy model that has emerged. Instead of seeking any kind of feedback from the public of the foreign nation, the main purpose of nation-branding is to spread a carefully constructed positive image of the country.

Ultimately, nation-branding can be considered public diplomacy, but I don’t know that it is more effective. That depends on how you measure success, and as I discussed above, the goals of nation-branding are often very different than other means of public diplomacy, which makes it difficult to draw a meaningful comparison.

viernes, 8 de junio de 2012

Chinese Soft Power: A Latin-American (Peruvian) perspective

"All countries can gain from finding attraction in one anothers’ cultures. But for China to succeed, it will need to unleash the talents of its civil society. Unfortunately, that does not seem about to happen soon."[1]
(Joseph Nye, Why China is Weak in Soft Power, NYT, January 17 2012)

Many experts consider China has a difficulty to expand its soft power. In the United States and Europe, as well as in other Asian countries, China is perceived with fear and mistrust. Chinese soft power seems to be in trouble. Nevertheless, China projects a positive image in Latin-America. Whether a Bolivarian country such as Venezuela, Bolivia or Ecuador that sympathizes with Chinese political system and its emergence as a global power against the “imperialist” power of the United States; most liberal countries such as Peru or Chile, who have benefitted from Free Trade Agreements; or even Brazil and Mexico that want to join –especially the former – China as a regional power; there is a common trend: everyone admires China’s rise.[2]

In my personal perspective, it might be more interesting to see how Chinese soft power has worked positively instead of focusing in other regions or countries – eg Europe or Japan - where I believe the Chinese soft power is being contested for another reason: fear of their hard power. In this, I will try to focus on my personal perspective on China’s image and recent activities to promote its standing in Peru, where Confucius Institutes are gaining a greater audience, Chinese-Peruvian food is a must, and many businessmen are trying to learn some basic Chinese to communicate with their main buyers and trade partners.

Chinese “coolies” arrived to Peru and other parts of South America by the middle of the 19th century to replace slaves and work mainly in the coastal fields. Many died in the way to Peru and those who arrived did not have an easy time. Over the years Peruvian-Chinese gained a reputation for being hard workers, excellent clerks and cooks. It is said that there is a Chinese store in every corner, as well as a “chifa”[3] (Chinese-Peruvian restaurants were always common, even though now it is a more sophisticated version that we can find in Lima). Nevertheless, despite this historical presence of “chinese,”[4] China as a country did not have an especially powerful presence or image in the Peruvian public opinion. It is clear that recent Chinese economic growth has helped to support its image, but it is also necessary to emphasize that China is investing a lot of resources in projecting itself as the new global power.

In Evan Ellis´s case study on Chinese Soft Power in Latin America there are several examples on how China is investing resources on building up a reputation as a power, but projecting itself as a partner that is closer despite the distance of a Pacific ocean between China and Peru. In recent years China has been promoting several cultural activities and is trying to present itself as a peaceful culture, paralleling China’s imperial time with Inca’s culture, as can be seen in many promotional publicity, including the Chinese Embassy’s webpage.

However, as Ellis says, “one of the most significant barriers between China and Latin America is language,” that is why it is very interesting to see how Confucius Institutes[5] have been opened in recent years not only in Lima but also in some important provinces. Many universities and schools are offering classes of Mandarin as the “business language” and even though English remains the most popular language to learn, Chinese is somehow becoming trendy. We will see if in the years to come this heavy investment on Chinese Soft Power makes the Chinese a more palatable language and China keeps its positive image in the region. Keeping a good reputation sometimes can be harder than building up a new one.     

[2] Even though we will focus on China’s PD in Latin America, we consider extremely interesting the overall evaluation of Chinese Soft Power made by Yiwei Wang, especially regarding the difficulties that China faces in order to build up a positive reputation worldwide.
[3] “Chifa” etymology comes from chi fan: basic words for “to eat a dish”
[4] In Peruvian slang, Chinese is a common way to refer to everyone with Asian features (by instance our former President Alberto Fujimori, from Japanese descent, was called “Chino”) and is mostly used as an affective adjective.